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Art by Tikitik.
With the arrival of SM came another toy to play with: Z-Moves. Z-Moves are special moves that take after the moves they're boosting; for a damaging move, the Z-Move counterpart is a tremendously high-Base Power attack (its exact Base Power depending on the base move) that shares the base move's type and attack category, and for a status move, the respective Z-Move provides additional utility and functionality, often through stat boosts. In addition, a team can only use one Z-Move per match. All Z-Moves require a Z-crystal in a Pokémon's item slot to be used, and there 18 Z-crystals that correspond to each of the types, plus a few more that are exclusive to select novelty Pokémon.
The addition of Z-Moves has certainly added new dynamics to Doubles play. Much akin to BW's Gems, Z-Moves provide Pokémon with powerful nukes that can significantly dent or straight up erase anything on the wrong end of them. Unlike Gems, however, instead of being preserved when targeting a foe using Protect, Z-Moves pierce through Protect and deal damage, albeit only for 25% of their usual damage. A player can also decide when they actually want to use the boosted hit, unlike Gems, which are consumed at the first attempt of using the boosted move. The high power the Z-Moves provide ultimately proves useful when wanting to guarantee a KO on a threat; the tremendous damage usually overwhelms most foes to the point where they'd be mostly out of commission, unable to take another blow, or just KOed, and while not always recommended, Z-Moves can also be used to guarantee damage through Protect for valuable chip damage and sly KOs. It's especially recommended to use Z-Moves on known Choice-locked targets or those who just used Protect, as this means they can't defend their slot, forcing either that target or the switch-in into a world of pain. Another point to keep in mind is that Z-Moves take away whatever secondary effect the base attack had and makes it single target if the base move hits both foes; one can take advantage of this fact by using the Z-Move version of moves with notable drawbacks such as Overheat before using the base move itself, allowing a Pokémon to attack twice before paying the price, or by using the Z-Move instead of the base spread move (Earthquake, Heat Wave, Thousand Arrows) to bypass Wide Guard. If you want to know how strong of a Z-Move a base move gets, look no further than the table below. Alternatively, you can just do /dt [move] on Pokémon Showdown!.
|Move Base Power||Z-Move Base Power|
Z-Moves can also provide additional functionality to a Pokémon's setup moves, adding another dimension to their game and changing how they are played. Pokémon running these kinds of Z-Moves are much rarer due to move distribution being hit-or-miss for moves that actually have game-changing value. The few Z-Moves actually being used, however, tend to be sly, nifty, and possibly even dangerous. Each status move provides its own additional effect for their Z version, and they all vary in value. Thankfully, you can find out what they do by looking at this Pastebin by OmegaDonut and Marty or, again, by just doing /dt [move] on Pokémon Showdown!.
The slug makes a name for itself in the DOU metagame as a tenacious bulky booster that only really needs one attack in Thousand Arrows. While relying on only one move in a boosting attacker can usually bring coverage problems, there is none of that here, as Thousand Arrows is capable of hitting even Flying-type and Levitating targets. The problem here isn't the coverage, however, but rather it's the fact that Thousand Arrows is a spread move. This can lead to Zygarde being walled by the likes of Aegislash, as it can just use Wide Guard to stop it from ever getting a blow in. This is where Groundium Z comes in; aside from functioning as a very handy one-shot bomb for targets that are just preferred to be downed ASAP, it also lets Zygarde hit through Wide Guard, as it converts Thousand Arrows into the single-target Tectonic Rage. Handy!
Heatran actually became much more versatile this generation, and this is partly thanks to Z-Moves, as it's capable of choosing between two different Z-Move attacks! When taking on a much more offensive role and not running Shuca Berry, Heatran can choose between simply traditionally blasting through targets with Firium Z and Inferno Overdrive or slamming the breaks on opposing Water-types' hopes of walling Heatran with Grassium Z and Bloom Doom. Choosing between the two comes down to the team's ability to handle Water-types such as Milotic and Tapu Fini; if those can prove to be somewhat of a problem, then giving Grassium Z a try is an option. Be wary of having BloomTran as your sole option for Waters though; having a Fire-type as your only way of beating Water-types is risky.
Aegislash had a notable lack of reliable offensive items in XY. The best it had was Weakness Policy, but that required proccing from a possibly heavy hit and had its boosts lost on a switch (and it's to note that Weakness Policy was run to deter these hits in the first place, from a meta standpoint); others such as Life Orb and Plates compromised its bulk and didn't have that much juice, respectively. Ghostium Z provided the best of both worlds, as it gave Aegislash a reliable offensive item that was also packing a ton of punch. Never-Ending Nightmare provided Aegislash another handy tool when it came to crumbling foes to submission.
The Bronze Bell wasn't really known for much last generation except for being Trick Room Jirachi, but kinda worse; now in SM, it's much more notorious. This is thanks to Z-Trick Room providing it a +1 boost to accuracy in addition to reversing Speeds, which, in conjunction with Hypnosis and relative "quickness" in the Trick Room, makes it a pretty dangerous guy. (Note that Doubles OU does NOT have Sleep Clause!) It essentially becomes a "Speed" demon that can put any foe it wants temporarily out of commission, controlling momentum hard—but that's only if Hypnosis and its improved-to-80% accuracy lands. Scary!
While those mentioned Pokémon are notable examples for Z-Move users, they aren't the only ones capable of using them! When it comes to Z-Move attacks, anything with a semblance of being an offensive attacker can likely run them and be effective, as the general application of "use if you want x Pokémon gone" applies every time. Tapu Lele and Tapu Koko can use Z-Moves if they want to get that one pop in; they're still pretty strong attackers even without a Life Orb boost, though Tapu Koko might miss it. Hoopa-U can try it out for a nuke that doesn't compromise its bulk, while Kingdra might use a rain-boosted Hydro Vortex to power through any non-resistant targets, though it might too miss Life Orb. Volcarona can melt whatever threat it wants for strong damage, giving it notable utility even without a Quiver Dance, and just imagine what Inferno Overdrive can do boosted. Again, these aren't the only examples; run wild!
When it comes to status Z-Moves, it depends more on the combination of user and move. Azumarill and Z-Belly Drum can possibily change how Azumarill can be played; instead being a bit more conservative with its HP, one can afford to be more aggressive by using it as a pivot while still leaving the option to boost later, as Z-Belly Drum heals the user to full before halving it and applying the boost. Another notable move is Z-Haze, which aside from making the likes of BD Azumarill and QD Volcarona cry also heals the user's HP back to full. This gives Volcanion some additional utility down the road, though Volcanion isn't doing well in the metagame as of writing. This particular aspect of Z-Moves is honestly quite unexplored and we might still find some notable threats in the future; Ally Switch Hoopa-U was used by Laga in SPL against Stax, and while he did lose the match, he did also provide another step in our knowledge of status Z-Moves.
And yes, that's an Araquanid right there among those beasts. That thing's boss.
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